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Computer Graphics Education, Siggraph Supporter Cunningham Dies

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Robert Stephen (Steve) Cunningham.

Computer scientist and long-time SIGGRAPH volunteer Robert Stephen Cunningham, known as "Steve" to friends and colleagues, passed away last week after a lengthy illness.

Credit: Grinnell College

Robert Stephen (Steve) Cunningham, an American computer scientist, computer graphics specialist, and long-time ACM SIGGRAPH volunteer and supporter, died on March 27, 2015, following a lengthy illness.

Cunningham, who received his B.A. cum laude in mathematics from Drury University in 1964, earned M.A. and a Ph.D. degrees in mathematics at the University of Oregon, and an M.S. in computer science at Oregon State University. He served as assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Kansas from 1969 to 1974, before leaving to take a position at Birmingham-Southern College (BSC). He started out at BSC as an assistant professor of mathematics, and advanced to roles as associate professor of mathematics and associate professor of computer science. In 1982, Cunningham left BSC to join California State University (CSU) Stanislaus, where he held roles including professor of computer science, Gemperle Distinguished Professor, and Stanislaus Professor Emeritus. He also served as Visiting Professor at the San Diego Supercomputer Center from 1999 to 2000.

In addition, Cunningham served as program director of the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources Undergraduate Education (EHR/DUE) Core Research Program from 2003 to 2005. He also was a research professor of computer science at Oregon State University from 2004 to 2005, and Noyce Visiting Professor of Computer Science at Grinnell College in 2006.

Cunningham's research focus was in computer graphics, specifically as it relates to education, and to computer visualization in learning mathematics. Recalled Barb Helfer, ACM SIGGRAPH Communications Chair, Cunningham’s "involvement in computer graphics began in 1976 when he received National Science Foundation funding to develop a graphics capability for teaching mathematics and statistics.

"Cunningham was a former chair of SIGGRAPH's Education Committee, 1983-90, where he was a significant contributor to development of the computer graphics curricula in computer science, and led and developed computer graphics education workshops for both the ACM SIGGRAPH and Eurographics communities. He was instrumental in creating an education directory and career handbook for computer graphics professionals. He was also a major contributor to SIGGRAPH's publications, where he created SIGGRAPH's first electronic publications and implemented other new publication technologies. He pioneered new publications, including the conference Visual Proceedings, and elevated smaller conference proceedings as mainstream publications. In 2004, he and soon-to-be-wife Judy Brown were awarded the ACM SIGGRAPH Outstanding Service Award for their outstanding achievement in computer graphics and interactive techniques. For those of us who knew both Judy and Steve, it was fitting that they received the award together because so much of their dedication to the organization and the community was jointly shared and supported."

The Grinnell College computer science webpage devoted to Cunningham observes, "Steve started his SIGGRAPH career by responding to a call for volunteers to work on SIGGRAPHs education activities. He helped start SIGGRAPHs Education Committee and was a principal in its development. He developed an education directory and contributed to developing a career handbook, educators conference grants, and the SIGGRAPH 91 education program.

"He has been a significant contributor to the development of computer graphics curricula in computer science and has led or developed a number of computer graphics education workshops around the world."

That page also notes, "When asked what SIGGRAPH activities he was most proud of, Steve noted the development of SIGGRAPHs education activities, the growth in content, quality, and reach of SIGGRAPHs publications, and SIGGRAPHs global outreach and collaborations. "

Cunningham co-authored or co-edited six books on graphics-related subjects.

Said Helfer, "To Steve, computer graphics education and service to the community was not only his vocation, but his avocation as well, and this gift is reflected through dedication to the organizations he served and the many people he nurtured who are in service to the communities he supported." She added, "In addition to his devotion to his work and to the improvement of computer graphics education locally and globally, Steve always found time for his colleagues, his friends, and his family. Steve was a caring and beloved man, cherished by his friends and family. He will be missed by many, but never forgotten by those whom he mentored and were blessed to have known him."


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